How San Diego is supporting the event industry post-COVID

Julie Coker, President & CEO of San Diego Tourism Authority, outlines how they're helping event organizers navigate the new normal post-COVID and what you can do to connect your visitors to the lifeblood of your city. Julie will also be joining us as one of our expert jurors for the 2022 City Nation Place Awards - find out more about the Awards here!

You started at San Diego Tourism Authority in June 2020 after leaving Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau How have you found the experience of getting to know a new city on the other side of America – whilst in a global pandemic?

While the circumstances in June of 2022 were far from ideal, there was a positive aspect. I was able to explore different neighbourhoods, walk along the coastline, experience the attractions, and enjoy outdoor dining with just San Diegans. Although we were all super cautious, I was able to chat with residents before we opened our doors back up to the nation and beyond and gain their perspectives. Through this experience, I learned San Diegans favourite taco shop, which beach has the best sunset, the best time to go to the Zoo and most importantly why they love San Diego. This helped me as we reopened to have a better understanding of resident’s pain points s and what impact visitors had on this. It also gave me a list of great restaurant recommendations!

Retrospectively, if you could have given yourself some advice as you started the role, what would it have been?

My first piece of advice would have been COVID will last much longer than two weeks! As leaders, we are accustomed to solving problems, endless amounts of networking and making strategic decisions for future growth. This was the first time in my career that the roadmap to future success was unclear. The future of travel and tourism was very bleak and as a leader I didn’t have answers. In the moment you do what you know – you push forward staying focused on community, team, and visitors. In hindsight I wish I had not sprinted but instead run a marathon to ensure there was enough gas left in the tank. I regret not taking better care of myself mentally and physically and giving myself permission to not have all the answers. I have learned many lessons over the past two years however the one that stands out the most is you can only take care of others if you first take care of yourself.

Events and conventions are a staple for many cities, but the sector is still very much finding it is footing after COVID. How can cities create a compelling offer for event and convention organizers by collaborating more effectively with the other stakeholders in the city?

Meetings, conventions, events, and trade shows have long been more than just space, dates, and rates. The backdrop a city provides for a board meeting, large medical convention, sporting event or for-profit trade show can be a key differentiator. So, for those reasons, destinations should tap into the local knowledge, creative and innovative community. By tapping into the different communities, it enhances your bid, it can change the attendee’s experience, and it can often lead to economic development opportunities for your destination. As destination sales and marketers we have those relationships and connecting our customers to the lifeblood of our city will enhance the customer relationship. Lastly, as we are all figuring out this post-COVID world, we need to have transparent communication to help us create a winning scenario for both the event organizer and the destination.

What do you think cities need to be doing to support event organizers navigate new challenges post-COVID?

We first need to start by listening to hear and not listening to respond. Understand the goals and objectives of the event, and then work with your event organizer to create a plan to achieve those goals. Each party needs to understand that in a post-COVID world, those goals could and will be different than pre-COVID. Lastly, we all worked together during the crisis to minimize the impact on both sides. We should not lose that collaborative spirit going forward. We all have the same goal to produce a successful and memorable event for all. Together, we need to work on the best path to do that, and that will require give and take on both sides.

How can destination marketing organizations help lay the foundation for a more inclusive, diverse tourism and hospitality industry?

Destination Marketing Organizations touch every aspect of travel - hotels, restaurants, attractions, cultural institutions, local government, economic development, and the list goes on. Because of the unique role we play we have an opportunity to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the core of not only what DMOs do every day, but at the core of how destination moves into recovery

And finally, what would you be hoping to see in a winning entry at the City Nation Place Awards?

Creativity, strategy, inclusiveness, inspiration and forward-looking. Yes, we are still living with COVID, however we must shift from reactive to proactive. I’m hopeful the submissions this year will take into account what the last two years represented but more importantly what opportunities our future holds.

The City Nation Place Awards are open for entry! Find out more here.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.